Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Apple, Google Raise New Concerns By Yanking Russian App

Berkeley, Calif.—Big tech companies operating around the world have long promised to comply with local laws and protect civil rights when doing business. But when Apple and Google acceded to Russian demands and removed a political-opposition app from their local app stores, it raised concerns that two of the world’s most successful companies would succumb to undemocratic orders and maintain a steady flow of profits. more comfortable than . Maintaining the rights of its users.

The app in question, called Smart Voting, was a tool to organize protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of elections due over the weekend. Last week a ban imposed by a pair of the world’s richest and most powerful companies has excited supporters of free elections and free expression.

“This is bad news for democracy and dissent around the world,” said Natalia Krapiva, technical legal advisor for Internet freedom group Access Now. “We expect other dictators to copy Russia’s strategy.”

Technology companies offering consumer services from search to social media to apps have long taken a tough stand in many of the world’s less democratic countries. As Apple, Google, and other major companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook have become more powerful over the past decade, so have the government’s ambitions to harness that power for its own ends.

“Now it is the poster child for political harassment,” said Sasha Meinrath, a professor at Penn State University who studies online censorship issues. Google and Apple have “increased the likelihood of this happening again.”

apple ink logo
The Apple logo is seen hanging over the entrance to the Apple Store on 5th Avenue on October 16, 2019 in Manhattan, NY. (Mike Seger / Reuters)

Neither Apple nor Google responded to requests for comment from the Associated Press when news of the app’s removal broke last week; Both remained silent this week as well.

Google also denied access to two documents on its online service Google Docs that listed candidates supported by smart voting, and YouTube blocked similar videos.

Meanwhile, Apple maintains a high level of “commitment to human rights” on its website, although a closer reading of that statement reveals that when there is a difference between a legal government mandate and human rights, the company follows the government. Will do “Where national law and international human rights standards differ, we adhere to a higher standard,” it reads. “Where they are in conflict, we respect national law while seeking to respect internationally recognized human rights principles.”

A man walks behind Alphabet’s Google logo in front of an office building in Zurich on July 1, 2020. (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

A recent report by Washington nonprofit Freedom House found that global Internet freedom has declined for the fifth year in a row and is under “unprecedented stress” as more countries than ever before have resorted to “nonviolent political, social or religious speech”. Internet users have been arrested for According to the report, authorities suspended internet access in at least 20 countries and 21 states blocked access to the social media platform.

For the seventh year in a row, China topped the list as the worst environment for Internet freedom. But such threats take many forms. For example, Turkey’s new social media rules require platforms with more than one million daily users to remove content deemed “objectionable” within 48 hours of being notified, or impose fines, advertising restrictions and bandwidth There is a risk of increased penalties including limits.

Meanwhile, according to Freedom House, Russia added to the existing “labyrinth of rules that international tech companies must navigate in the country”. Overall online freedom in the United States also declined for the fifth year in a row, with the group reporting so-called conspiracy theories and misinformation about the 2020 election, as well as surveillance, harassment, in response to racial-injustice protests. And citing the arrest said.

Big tech companies have generally agreed to follow country-specific regulations for removing content and other issues to operate in these countries. This can range from blocking posts about Holocaust denials to outright censorship of opposition parties like Russia, where they are illegal, in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

The removal of the app was widely condemned by opposition politicians. Leonid Volkov, the top strategist to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, wrote on Facebook that the companies were “leaning on Kremlin blackmail.”

Navalny’s aide Ivan Zhdanov said on Twitter that the politician’s team is considering suing both companies. He also scoffed at the move: “Expectation: Government shuts down the Internet. Reality: The Internet shuts itself down out of fear.”

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a march commemorating the assassination of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov in the city of Moscow on February 29, 2020. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

It is possible that the setback could prompt either or both companies to reconsider their commitment to operating in Russia. Google made a similar decision in 2010 when it pulled its search engine from mainland China after the communist regime began censoring search results and videos on YouTube.

Russia isn’t a major market for either Apple, whose annual revenue is expected to reach $370 billion this year, nor Google’s corporate parent, Alphabet, whose revenue is projected to reach $250 billion this year. But profit is profit.

“If you want to take a principled stance on human rights and freedom of expression, you’re going to have to make some tough choices when it comes to leaving the market,” said Kurt Opshall, general counsel for the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation. .

The Associated Press



This News Originally From – The Epoch Times

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